As one of this year’s surprise favorites, University of the East tries to shake off the nerves when Season 76 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament unfolds today at Mall of Asia Arena.
The Warriors, whose impressive summer run made many forget their near-bottom finish last year, get their campaign going at 2 p.m. versus a Far Eastern University squad that also had a colorful preseason.
“Anything can happen in the UAAP,” said UE coach Boycie Zamar. “We’ve talked about the jitters, it can hit even the veterans, especially since it’s the opening.”
La Salle, which tapped new coach Juno Sauler just three weeks ago, also hopes to have adjusted just in time against last year’s runner-up University of Santo Tomas at 4 p.m.
The league fires off with a grand opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m. where host Adamson will parade some of their famous alumni led by former PBA stars Kenneth Duremdes and Hector Calma.
Hours before the double-header, it will be a waiting game for three foreign rookies as the UAAP Board called for an emergency meeting to tackle their eligibility.
Questions had been raised on the documents submitted by Cameroonians Ingrid Sewa (Adamson) and Alfred Aroga (National University) and Sierra Leonean Charles Mammie (UE), just days after the Board said in a press conference that no eligibility problems cropped up.
“[The meeting will be] just to clarify the documents submitted [by foreign athletes],” league president Fr. Max Rendon told the Inquirer yesterday.
The Warriors, though, couldn’t afford to have Mammie out of the picture as the imposing 6-foot-8 African center helped transform UE into a contender along with explosive guard Roi Sumang.
For new FEU coach Nash Racela, the task was to instill discipline in a team whose concerns ranged from on-court issues between star guards RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo to American center Anthony Hargrove’s drugs controversy.
“The response [to change] has been very positive,” said Racela. “We were patient with them. The biggest challenge now is playing as one unit.”
Sauler expects his Archers, led by last year’s top rookie Jeron Teng, to have settled back into fighting form following the surprise replacement of Gee Abanilla.
“It could have been better circumstances, but because we only had three weeks, we had to practice twice a day just to get things done,” said Sauler.
It’s this unpredictability, though, that worries UST coach Pido Jarencio.
“We’re lost with La Salle because we had no chance to scout them when they changed coaches,” said Jarencio.